I did much of my training in Europe—and particularly in Switzerland—so I have a background that’s highly unusual in the U.S. As a result, I have unique ways of addressing problems that other doctors can’t solve, which is why I call myself the “last chance doctor.” For years, my patients kept telling me, “You should write a book.” Eventually, the idea just took on a life of its own, and it wound up generating a whole brand. It all happened very organically. Actually, however, I think I was destined from birth to be an entrepreneur, because it’s in my DNA. My dad, who was the son of immigrants, worked for years at the local steel mill in our town. One day, the owners offered him a prestigious position as a manager—and he shocked everyone by turning it down, because he wanted to be his own boss. He had lots of setbacks—including opening a barber shop right when the Beatles came along and haircuts went out of style!—but he eventually opened a highly successful sporting goods store. I think I picked up the entrepreneurial bug from watching him single-handedly pursue his vision, despite the pain and hard work and setbacks.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
My biggest issue was: How do you get people to believe in you, when they don’t know you? When I started out, I needed an agent, an audience, and a platform, none of which I had. I didn’t even have a website. Luckily, I met some powerful people in the publishing and entertainment industries who saw something in me, and things took off from there.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it?
Initially, I was always working, and there were no boundaries. I worked on holidays, weekends, nights. I knew it was hard for my kids to understand, so I sat them down one day and said, “I want you to know how much I love you. I also want you to understand that you have front-row seats to something unique—watching someone in life truly going for it, with integrity and a love for what I do.” Now that they’re older, I’m happy that they can see how all the sacrifices paid off.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
I did a PBS special that became one of the biggest hits the network ever aired. That told me that I had a message that people would embrace.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
For years, I tried to run my business without any outside funding. I had to learn about scalability, and a big part of that involves funding. So in retrospect, I’d have kept a more open mind about looking for outside funding. I may have struggled a least a little longer than I needed to.
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Do stuff scared. Entrepreneurship is a game that involves risk, and you can’t be averse to that risk. Understand both sides of it—not just the dangers, but also the opportunities. Also, cultivate a close-knit group of peers you can trust. Let them understand what you’re doing, and listen to their advice. Talking things out with people you respect can help you make smart decisions in a high-risk environment.